Inside an Anxious Mama's Mind in These Uncertain Times

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Anxiety is a nightmare to live with. It makes it impossible for me to enjoy the moment because I’m always focused on the “what ifs.” On a normal day, I’m thoroughly exhausted by 10 a.m. because my brain has been going non-stop since 4 a.m. Despite my exhaustion, I can’t sit still because I don’t know how to relinquish an opportunity to be preparing for the future. Thanks to current events, my anxiety is even more rampant than usual. If you have anxiety, then I’m sure you can relate. If not, then here’s a taste of what it’s like to be in this anxious mama’s brain right now.

As I write this, Hurricane Harvey just wreaked havoc on the state of Texas, Hurricane Irma is creating a path of destruction across the Caribbean Islands and Florida, dozens of wildfires are destroying the Western United States, and an earthquake of epic proportions just annihilated portions of Mexico. These unexpected natural disasters have me wondering if my family will be affected next and how to prepare.

There are no good options when it comes to preparing for a natural disaster in the midst of all of life’s other demands. Time does not stop so we can make sure we have weeks worth of supplies, or attempt to condense our lives to that which will fit in a car. This is assuming we even have the disposable income to use on preparations or evacuation. Not all of us can drop that kind of money because Mother Nature decides now would be a good time for a natural disaster.

Let’s say that hypothetically I do have the money, energy and time to pack up our belongings for God knows how long and spend hours driving with two screaming children and a prayer we can find a place to stay other than our car. Even if we make it out of town, who’s to say some other travesty won’t befall us? What if we get stranded because our car breaks down in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone service? I don’t know how to fix a car or survive in the wilderness.

Or what if one of my children becomes seriously ill or injured and time is of the essence? I know basic first aid, but anything more and I’m reliant on speedy and competent emergency medical service providers (which are not likely to be plentiful during a natural disaster, in the middle of nowhere, with no cell phone service) so I’ll be forced to sit by ignorantly, wishing I’d studied medicine so I could do something to intervene.

If I’m lucky and never have to experience a natural disaster, then I still have plenty to worry about: my eldest son started kindergarten last week. Kindergarten isn’t cute – it’s horrifying! All I can think about is various school shootings. My brain equates my son’s entry into the public school system as his entry into the realm of school shootings. It used to be that the biggest threat in elementary school was embarrassing oneself in front of the class or acquiring head lice. Instead, now I worry about not being there when my son needs me to protect him from violence no child (or adult for that matter) should ever experience or be witness to.

If I’m not worrying about school shootings, then I’m worrying about how to possibly raise a decent human in a culture that boasts violence, discrimination and oppression. How do I ensure my children recognize the privilege they have as white (presenting) people in this society when they can plainly see people of color being treated as sub-human? How can I encourage them to have pride in their Latino culture when immigrants (whose status in the United States was guaranteed to be secure) are now being deported? How do I convince them feminism is for everyone when the president spouts misogyny and gets to maintain his position of power? How can I impress upon them the importance of bodily autonomy when our society demands control of women’s bodies day in and day out?

I ruminate about these things knowing full well I can’t control anything outside of myself. Perhaps that’s the most maddening part of anxiety – I know I can’t control anything and yet I run myself ragged trying to prepare for all the possible scenarios as if all that preparation will keep me from an undesired outcome. Unfortunately, all the worry and preparation in the world doesn’t keep bad things from happening (if it did, I’d have a perfect life). It also doesn’t ensure good things will happen. What it does seem to consistently produce is me not being present for the good things when they happen because I’m so worried about the bad things that might happen.

The reality is this: risk follows me everywhere and I can’t worry myself or my family into safety and security. While I can’t control my anxiety, I can do everything in my power to keep living my best life despite my recurrent fears. All I can do at any given time is my best and that has to be good enough. So as natural disasters roll in, and my kid climbs onto the school bus and waves goodbye, and the state of our country continues to disintegrate – I’ll just sit here and acknowledge I have no control over the future. All I have is this moment right now.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

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Thinkstock photo via bmcent1

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When Your Anxiety Is Mistaken as 'Flakiness'

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I recently had a conversation with a good friend of mine about my anxiety and anxious personality. I often don’t return phone calls and text messages in a timely manner (or at all), and although she understands why, our mutual friends that don’t know me as well do not. She then informed me a friend of ours not on social media that texted me a few weeks ago had a baby and was trying to get in touch with me.

Oh, no, I thought. I can’t believe I didn’t respond! I am the worst friend in the world! She then told me bluntly that I may lose friends, not because I am a bad person, but because they will take my non-responsiveness as rudeness. In fact, I have lost friends, or have lost regular contact with people I care about, but not because I don’t care.

In this day and age of smart phones and social media, I often get 30 to 40 text messages/private messages/emails a day during the week. I do my best to respond, but I don’t always.

Quite honestly, I sometimes look at my phone, at all of the apps and text messages and the phone itself will cause me anxiety. I am not kidding. On the weekends I sometimes put the phone in the other room and decompress, only to return to the device filled with what seems like a gazillion notifications. Those close to me have already called me out on my “flakiness” on responding to communication. But I don’t see myself as flaky. I see myself as a caring, compassionate and loyal friend. It is my anxiety that causes the disconnect.

So what I need my friends and acquaintances (and even some family members) to know is that I care, deeply.

In fact, I had thought about my friend with a baby who tried to contact me often, and would always have the thought that I needed to get back to her. I even look at some of my long lost friends on social media and think about private messaging them to catch up, but my anxiety gets in the way. Oh, I don’t want to be a bother, I think to myself. They have busy lives, they probably don’t even want to hear from me anyway.

I hope the people in my life, every single one of them, read this and realize just how much I care. Even if I don’t say it with a digital message every day, I am thinking of you, and you are always in my heart.

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Thinkstock photo via LanaBrest.

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Anxiety Left My Seat Empty at My Daughter's Ballet Recital

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Before my daughter could walk, she could dance. When she heard a song playing, she was moving her cute chubby baby arms to the beat. Once she learned to walk, there was no stopping her from moving and grooving with her talented little legs. When my baby girl turned three years old, I enrolled her in her first ballet class and she did absolutely amazing! She listened to her instructor very well, followed directions great, and I feel she was one of the best dancers in the class. All of her dance moves were on pointe. (Get it? A little dance humor for you there.)

Fast-forward two years later and my little ballerina is now five years old, which means she is old enough to participate in the dance school’s grand ballet recital. Dancing on the big stage in front of a large crowd with bright lights and loud music can be intimidating, especially for little kids, and this is why the dance teachers constantly talked about it with the students throughout the year. I can still hear the dance teacher asking the class, “Is dancing on the big stage scary?” and the students answering with a resounding “No!”

Parents were also highly encouraged to talk with their kids about what being on stage would be like, which I did. The teacher asked for two to three parent volunteers to be Backstage Moms at the recital. I didn’t volunteer, because:

1. I had never been to a ballet recital before and I didn’t know what to expect backstage.

2. I had seen way too many unbelievable episodes of “Dance Moms.”

3. I didn’t think my daughter needed me back there with her.

Whenever I talked about the recital with my daughter, she was always happy and excited. Her little eyes would light up and she would get a great big smile on her face. It felt like she would ask me when the recital was every single day. When it was time to purchase her recital costume, I did. When it was time to purchase recital tickets, I did. I invited our relatives and they bought tickets as well.

The dress rehearsal was the day before the big recital. I had asked my mom if she could take my daughter to the rehearsal, because I had to take my other daughter to an important doctor’s appointment. I told my mom it would be easy peasy for her since my daughter was so excited about the recital. Man, was I wrong.

She won’t get onstage.

That was the text I got from my mom. I texted her back: What do you mean? My mom then called me and told me my daughter was scared, crying and clinging to her. She was refusing to go onstage, despite my mom, her teacher and friends trying to help calm her down and give her words of encouragement. I told my mom to tell her that if she goes onstage, I’d buy her a new toy. That didn’t work. My mom tried everything she could think of to get her to go onstage, but nothing worked. Absolutely nothing. My mom had no choice but to leave the theatre and bring my daughter home.

When I got back from the doctor’s office, I gave my daughter a great big hug and I sat her on my lap. I asked her what happened at the rehearsal and she told me she got scared because she didn’t want the audience looking at her. I told her it is OK for her to feel what she is feeling. I never told her “Don’t be scared,” because honestly, I knew that wouldn’t have done any good. The same goes for telling someone to “calm down.” Instead, I told her I was going to tell her a secret. The secret was this:

“The only people who will be looking at you are your family, who love you very much. All the other people will be looking at their dancer, not you. All you have to do is go onstage, look at your teacher, do your dance, and get off the stage. That’s it.”

That night, my daughter fell asleep easily, probably because she was so drained from crying earlier. I think our talk helped, but I could tell she was still nervous afterwards. She needed more than just a pep talk and I already knew bribing her with toys wasn’t going to get her onstage either. What she needed was to have faith and trust. Oh, and something I forgot… dust. Yep, just a little bit of pixie dust.

Before I get into the fairy magic I made happen while my daughter was asleep, you have to know my daughter absolutely loves and adores fairies, especially Tinker Bell. She says fairies follow her around, she can talk to them, and she can always tell where they’ve been because they leave sparkles. My mom (aka “Nonna”) created a fairy garden in her backyard that my daughter visits every chance she gets. To say that fairies are a big part of my daughter’s life would be an understatement. They are her entire world!

I had previously bought a light up figurine of Tinker Bell on my last trip to Disneyland, which I planned to give my daughter when she was a bit older, but I decided to give it to her now and have it be a special gift from Tinker Bell instead. I wrote a letter to my daughter from Tinker Bell, letting her know she was flying over to watch her dance in her recital and reminding her to look for sparkles backstage. (With all of the dancers running around back there in their glittery costumes, I knew there were going to be a lot of sparkles on the floor!) I also knew that looking for sparkles would take my daughter’s mind off of being scared and nervous. I left the statue and letter out on the kitchen counter for my daughter to find in the morning.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen my daughter’s eyes as wide as I did that morning! She was extremely happy about the surprise Tinker Bell left for her. She was practically radiating joy and excitement. She couldn’t wait to get to the theatre to look for sparkles backstage and to dance for Tinker Bell on stage! Yes! My plan had worked!

When we got to the theatre, I brought my daughter to the back room and got her situated. I helped set up a game of Candyland for my daughter and a couple other girls to keep them busy.  Soon, it was time for the parents to leave the room, so I gave my daughter a big hug and I told her I was super excited to watch her dance and I would see her after the recital. I let go… but she didn’t.

She began crying, and not just little tears. These were big tears streaming down her face. She was yelling that she was scared and she didn’t want me to leave her. I held her, dried her tears, and repeated all of the things I told her the day before… but it wasn’t cutting it. She wasn’t just crying now. She was shaking, sweating, and her heart was pounding. My baby girl was having a full-blown anxiety attack.

I could hear the announcer telling everyone to find their seats, and I could feel the eyes of everyone in that back room looking at us. I knew I was supposed to go to my seat. I wasn’t a Backstage Mom. I wasn’t allowed to be back there anymore. Some of the other Backstage Moms and the kids tried to comfort my daughter, which I truly appreciated, but my daughter didn’t need them. She didn’t need fairy magic either. What she needed was just Mommy. Just me.

So what happened next was that I just sort of, kind of, never left my daughter and became a last-minute Backstage Mom, which I never thought I would have done in a million years. I sat on the carpet with the kids and played games with them, introducing them to the classics like Telephone. I sang Moana’s “How Far I’ll Go” with them. I interviewed the kids and asked them silly questions that made them laugh. I helped give out snacks, made sure their hair looked good and helped clean up. This all came very naturally to me because I am a retired daycare provider and I can honestly say I had a blast being backstage with those girls. The best part though was how simply being backstage helped my daughter feel less anxious, nervous and scared. I, on the other hand, was nervous about getting into trouble about staying backstage without permission, but to my surprise, the teacher, director and theatre employees were all very supportive and appreciative that I decided to stay back. Whew!

I am happy to report that, because I stayed back to be with my daughter, that was all she needed. Although I could tell she was still a little nervous before she walked onstage, I had provided her with just enough confidence to get out there and dance her little heart out. As always, she did amazing. Although I never did get to sit in my seat I had purchased, the director pulled me aside as the kids were going onstage to let me stand directly next to the teacher while the kids performed. I felt like I had the best spot in the whole theatre. Tears filled my eyes and pride filled my heart as I watched my little ballerina dance onstage for the first time. I will never forget that incredible feeling and I am blessed to know I will get to experience it over and over, most likely as a Backstage Mom again, because I will always be there for my daughter in any way I can for as long as I can.

Someday, my daughter will be ready to let go when I tell her it’s time for Mommy to leave (and I’m not just talking about dropping her off backstage at her recital). I’m talking about when she goes away to college, moves out, and even when I die. Thinking about those life-changing events for too long makes me cry, but knowing my daughter will have the strength and confidence to handle them gives me such pride in being her mother.

Just keep dancing, my little ballerina, and Mommy will keep helping you one step at a time.

Previously published on www.mylittlevillagers.com

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How I Curb My Anxiety Around New People

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I have had depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. I remember crying at night, terrified I had swallowed a piece of glass, or balling my eyes out because of the starving children commercials I had seen.

Having depression had given me an overpowering sense of empathy for others, or maybe it was my empathy that gave me depression. Either way, I had to learn to survive with my condition. I had no idea what it was and I didn’t have any treatment until way into adulthood.

When I was in my 20s, I learned a trick to help curb my anxiety. New people are always the hardest. You do not know them and any new meeting could go either way.

I learned that when I could make them feel at ease and happy, it would also put me at ease. My empathy would also allow me to feel how they felt, and feel outrage when they did, so I would agree and help them in any way I could. I would in a sense treat them how I would want to be treated. I heard that golden rule long ago and had thought “Well, why wouldn’t you?” In life, not everyone has empathy and I feel many don’t have it to the degree I do. It can sometimes consume me — it feels like what the other person is experiencing is happening to me.

When I can make someone smile and be happy, or just laugh for a moment in a world like this, then I feel more at ease. So, maybe I don’t do it for them. I do it for me. I do it for my anxiety. I do it for my depression. I do it for those who may be struggling right now, and you may never know what going on beneath the surface.

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Thinkstock photo via lorenzoantonucci

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How I'm Dealing With My Anxiety While Traveling

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Panic takes over. My ribs quiver with the force of my heartbeat; my eardrums throb with the sound. It’s deafening: an aggressive, quickening crescendo that demands my attention and mutes all else. I’m consumed at once with sensory overload and with numbness.

With every fiber of my being, I want to miss my flight. But if I don’t see this backpacking trip through, I fail. I’m incapable, inadequate; I’ll never overcome my fear. Or so says my anxiety – the reason I’m feeling this way in the fucking first place.

I’m embarking on this journey to prove something to myself: I am stronger than the ocean of fear in which I perpetually swim. I can battle the currents; I can ride the waves. Fuck you, anxiety. You won’t stop me.

I caught that plane.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been navigating the dark waters of anxiety and panic. It’s a constant battle between the conflicting forces of restlessness and inertia. Adrenaline courses through my veins, begging for action. It also keeps me awake and on edge until I’m too fatigued to do anything at all.

In this, I am not alone.

Around 1 in 7 people are affected by anxiety disorders in Australia — roughly double the worldwide statistic — and those are just the diagnosed cases. But alas, strength in numbers won’t deter the periodic onset of frazzled-fragility. I become unable to concentrate, think or converse. I’m a version of myself I don’t want to be. Rather, I imagine a wild-eyed, fearless me: an independent explorer, a headstrong leader, a social butterfly. I crave freedom – the opposite of what I know. I seek to feel this, to become this, through travel.

Perhaps counterintuitively, many of us who live with anxiety are drawn to adventure. We dare to provoke our neuroses, searching for relief in the depths of great discomfort. We imagine that by handling such unbelievable situations, we’ll never be afraid again.

As I write now, I’m three weeks into a daunting 10-month travel stint. In the lead-up to my arrival here in Bali, I experienced panic attacks and stomach ulcers that left me vomiting up blood and unable to eat.

young woman lying in clear ocean wearing red bathing suit

Such is life for the anxious traveler. Noisy, light polluted dorm rooms leave you sleepless. Tension and stomach ulcers exacerbate the effects of food poisoning. Muscle aches make you think twice about hiking that volcano. “Normal” situations such as communal kitchen conversation or even nursing your hangover can kickstart the panic. Cue mad scramble away from the crowd to hide the hyperventilation, trembling and tears of frustration.

We don’t endure all of this just for the Instagram photos. We want to prove we are capable of being outside our (microscopic) comfort zones. That we can make friends effortlessly, skinny dip without insecurity or bungee jump over a waterfall. Travel provides all of the necessary opportunities to prove our bravery, egging us to grab life by the balls. The only problem is, pressure is not a friend of the anxious mind.

The cruel paradox of anxiety is that it will push with all its strength to keep you from pursuing a goal, debilitating you with fear and indecision; meanwhile punishing you relentlessly for being unable to succeed.

Travel addresses both poles of the paradox.

On the road, we’re faced with tough situations. We are encouraged, or even required, to do things that make us uncomfortable. Failure to fulfill our own valiant expectations is accompanied by incessant overthinking, self-deprecation and self-doubt. Over literally anything. For example, declining an offer for a stick-and-poke tattoo from some Colombian dreadlocked hippy may seem like a sensible decision. Well, for some it can result in days of regret and self-loathing for “being so fucking uptight.”

I’ve become grateful for my daily confrontations with this disheartening internal monologue. It exhausts me. It leaves me no choice but to accept my imperfections and vulnerability. I may not always be as bold and energized as other people, and that’s OK. With that, I have begun forming relationships and having adventures of my own prerogative – not to prove myself, but to seek genuine thrill. I know the resulting challenges and triumphs will slowly settle the tumultuous oceans of my anxious mind. It’s already begun.

fisheye lens photo of woman packing up tent in sunshine

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for anxiety and there is no single solution for everyone. There is only a slow process of healing that starts with letting go of expectations and canning the negative self-talk.

So I choose to disregard the doubtful voice in my head. I’ll dance topless in the rain because I want to, not because I’m boring if I don’t join in. I’ll do it for the feeling, the genuine smile, the contagion of my laughter. From now, I’ll pay attention to my senses, not my insecurities. I’ll be patient with myself, and dare to try – dare to fail.

And sure, the challenges associated with travel can raise the tide in an anxious mind – but if you ride the waves, you’ll come out a stronger swimmer. Congratulate yourselves for each firm stroke, my friends, and rest assured that one day we will rest, our feet firmly planted on solid ground.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

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What I Need as an 'Extroverted Introvert' Struggling With Anxiety

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Extrovert (noun): An outgoing, overtly expressive person.

Introvert (noun): A shy, reticent person.

Extroverted introvert (noun): Me.

As someone who has always deemed herself an “extroverted introvert,” my life has never been necessarily “easy.” Working in emergency medical services (EMS), I have to talk to people — a lot of people — every day. Even when talking to people is the absolute last thing I want to do. And working for a small to medium sized hospital-based service makes it even tougher. The corporation I work for contains seven EMS services, four community hospitals, several doctors offices and thousands of employees. Yes, thousands, with a “S.” If you were to ask any of my coworkers, I think they’d use the words: responsible, Type A and outgoing to describe me. But the me they see and the me that I actually am can be two totally different people.

The me they see is the extrovert. The girl who fakes a smile, regardless of how she’s feeling. The girl who says “hello” to everyone as she walks through the halls of the hospital. The girl who comes in early, stays late and takes on everyone else’s problems as her own because she’s dying to make a difference and help in any way she can. They see the 20-something-year-old, goofy kid, whose goal in life is to make people feel good by making them laugh. That’s the me they see.

The me they don’t see is the introvert. The girl who is having a full-blown panic attack when talking to anyone new. The girl whose mind is asking her five million questions about the most random bullshit while you’re talking to her. The girl who is constantly worried that she’s not making a good impression, she’s not working hard enough, she’s not helping out enough, she’s not giving enough and that she’s just in no way, shape or form… enough.

At age 15, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I was on and off medications for years. Being so young, I just wanted to be “normal,” so keeping up with my daily medications was never my top priority. As an adult (I’m almost 30 now, ouch), I’ve definitely come to learn that one of my top priorities each day is to take my medicine. Not that the medication fixes everything. It is most definitely not a cure for everyone. But it helps. My anxiety and depression “spells,” as I not-so-lovingly like to refer to them, don’t hit often, but when they hit, they hit hard. And when I say hard, I mean like a freight train slamming into a concrete wall at full speed. These “spells” can be life-altering.

Even when I’m in a “good place” and things are going well, the daily task to keep my anxiety at bay can be a daunting one, to say the least. I constantly worry that I’m doing something wrong. That I’m too much or that I’m too distant. That my anxiousness is flashing in big neon lights across my forehead. So when I’m in a “bad place,” it gets even worse. Getting out of bed seems like the most impossible task. Forget going to work, showering, doing laundry and general pickup around my apartment. The autonomic task of simply breathing is absolutely exhausting. My friends and family say things like “just stay positive,” “you don’t need to be alone right now, so why don’t you come over,” or “you can’t let this get you so down.” They love me and think they’re helping, but unfortunately, all of those little “cheer you up” sayings tend to just make things worse.

So, what do I need when these spells hit? I need you to not think that I’m “crazy.” I need you to be there but not be pushy – offer to hang out, but if I say “no,” don’t be hurt and let that be OK. Saying things like, “I’m here if you need me,” or in the case of my innocent and precious Southern Baptist grandmother, “I’m praying for you,” is OK. Those things are good and very much welcomed. But say it and then move on. If I want to talk about it, I will. But the chances are, I don’t want to. So, while I love and appreciate you for caring and for loving me, what I need and what you want in times like this are likely on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Just because I back off for a bit doesn’t mean I’m backing off forever. It means that I need some time and space to process whatever bazillion things are going on in my head and heart at the time. Let that be OK. If you do, I swear that, in time, it will become easier for me to be honest with you about what I’m thinking and feeling.

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Unsplash photo via Vanessa Serpas

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